esmaspäev, aprill 06, 2009

dr. vares

I've been doing a little research on the so-called "June communists" -- the puppet government of Estonian literary men and ne'er-do-wells that was assembled in the Soviet legation in Tallinn in June 1940.

The sitting Estonian government had been given an ultimatum to form a pro-Soviet government on June 15. President Konstantin Päts first put forward August Rei, a Social Democrat and Estonia's ambassador to Moscow, as a candidate for prime minister of this "pro-Soviet" government.

The Soviets rejected Rei's candidacy. Instead, they chose a prime minister for the government themselves. It would be Johannes Vares, a 50 year-old, wealthy Pärnu doctor and radical poet who dabbled in cubism and anarchism. In modern American parlance, Vares would be considered a "limousine liberal" -- a person of wealth who expressed compassion for the plight of the working people of Estonia.

At first, Vares seemed like the perfect man for Moscow's plans. He was a genuine national cultural figure who could assuage the masses that Estonian independence would remain intact, and that their indepedence was secure, until the Soviets fulfilled their plans of annexing the country.

For the Soviets, though, there would be one problem with Dr. Vares, according to the memoirs I am reading. The main issue was that he was a naive dope who proved incapable of carrying out their basic orders. Most of the June communists were men who had no political background at all. Vares had none. Nor did his "foreign minister," Nigol Andresen, a school master. Vares' personally selected deputy prime minister, Hans Kruus, a professor of history in Tartu, similarly had no political experience.

According to the memoir of Ants Oras, a professor of English who knew most of the "June communists" personally, none of these men were even communists. He describes Vares as an "anarchist by temperament," whose grasp of political problems was "uncertain." Vares was "a type destined to remain opposed to any regime, pouring forth magniloquent dreams and vituperations in verse."

During the month between Vares' installment as prime minister and Estonia's request to join the USSR, Vares, Andresen, and others made daily radio broadcasts assuring the Estonian people of Estonia's intentions to remain an independent country that would now, thanks to its Soviet protector, have more freedom and equality than ever before. Vares himself was kept under 24-hour supervision by the NKVD and complied with all the requests of the Soviet legation.

An issue though was that he himself did not understand what to do as prime minister. According to Oras, Vares visited Soviet emissary Andrei Zhdanov several times a day for instruction. Sometimes the government itself did not understand the Soviet legation's orders. Vares was "in a state of miserable confusion" as to how his statements on air were contradicted by the actions that he was ordered to take, Oras writes.

Zhdanov himself had assured Vares that Estonia would not be incorporated into the USSR. When Vares was told that Estonia would be annexed he was "horrified." The June government made a last ditch effort to negotiate for "Outer Mongolia" status -- then a Soviet-dependency but not part of the USSR. According to Oras, Zhdanov threatened to shoot Vares if he did not comply with the order to vote for joining the USSR.

Vares, who called the vote a "fiction," himself did not speak in Moscow in favor of joining the USSR. He had written his own speech and was not permitted to speak by his handlers. Instead, Johannes Lauristin, deputy foreign minister, read the prepared speech in the presence of Stalin. The Soviets deliberated, and unsurprisingly accepted Estonia as the 16th republic on August 6, 1940.

Vares was evacuated from Estonia in 1941 after the German advance. He returned to fulfill his duties as a puppet political figure in 1945, but committed suicide in Kadriorg Palace in November 1946, though some speculate he was killed by the Soviet secret police.

Several other June communists were eliminated by the Soviets after they had outlived their usefulness. Maksim Unit, minister of the interior in Vares' government, was executed by the NKVD in July 1941. Economy Minister Juhan Nihtig-Narma was deported by the NKVD to Siberia where he died in 1942. Boris Sepp, the minister of justice, simply disappeared. War minister Tõnis Rotberg was also deported by the NKVD in 1944. He died in a Soviet prison camp in 1953. Similarly, Nigol Andresen, the foreign minister, was purged as a "bourgeois nationalist" in 1950. He was sentenced to 25+5 years in Siberia, but was allowed to return home after Stalin's death.

The central question of my research was whether the June government were willing collaborators who gave up Estonia's independence or whether they were useful idiots who were manipulated by their Soviet handlers and then discarded. Right now, I am leaning towards the latter.

29 kommentaari:

tempest ütles ...

Vares had two bullet wounds, one of them at the back of his head.

Wahur ütles ...

In a way your research would be futile. I would say that possible reasons for collaboration cover full specter from simple human greed to ultimate political naivete.

Socialist side was actually pretty strong here already since 1905. revolution. We might prefer to conveniently forget it, but I was always fascinated by the fact that Most Wanted revolutionary Kingissepp was for some time actually hiding in an apartment of the minister of Estonian Republic, socialist Oinas (they were schoolmates). Small everyone-knows-everyone society... More radical wing of socialists was obviously discredited after 1924, but was it actually just waiting to return? Let's not forget that European socialist movements were and many still are stupidly Soviet-friendly. I would say, hidden political support base was there.

And if pre-war Estonia was not the fascist hell of Soviet textbooks, neither was it the paradise on Earth that many "professional Estonians" would like us to believe. Reading late-30ies memoirs one can detect the resentment that was caused by the failure of Päts to restore the constitutional order despite his many promises. So even those who were not "hidden support base", might have been a bit less active than they otherwise might have been.

Add to the mix relative poverty of industrial workers and you get pretty explosive stuff. Not powerful enough to cause a revolution, but still enough to feed new regime with plenty of collaborators.

Giustino ütles ...

My research is not on whether or not the June communists collaborated, but whether it was their intention to join the USSR.

The Soviet historiography portrayed them as the vanguard of a revolution that overthrew Päts dictatorship to join the USSR. "Professional Estonians" just see them as a pro-Soviet puppet government.

The information I am reading says that they themselves were not aware of plans to join the USSR until they were instructed to do. For me, it is interesting that the puppet government thought until mid July that they would just be a self-government in a nominally independent state. They told the Estonian people that they would remain independent prior to the illegal elections.

In this way, both the Soviet and "Professional Estonian" versions of this period are untrue.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Hm, official history?
Rein Helme wrote in 1991 in '1940. Aasta: Eeel Ja Järellugu':

'The next day, July 21, Estonia was proclaimed a Soviet republic. This probably came a bit unexpectedly even for many of those directly involved. From Johannes Vares-Barbaarus "consultations" with Andrey Zdhanov and other Soviet representatives it became clear that there would be no longer period of transition.'

Published by Perioodika 1991.

Kaspar Hauser ütles ...

Wahur has a good point. For example most of the best Estonian historians of that time were Socialists. Hans Kruus is still considered the first high level professional historian in Estonia (the local "Father of History" if preferred; the second professional historian, Peeter Tarvel (uncle of Enn Tarvel), was also active marxist). Kruus had also been a politician. During the Revolution(s) of 1917 he led Estonian SR-s (even met Stalin, who was then kind of Minister of Population of Soviet Russia)


None of the "June communists" were communist. All were socialists in their views. And all were purged by 1950 (Vares did himself in 1946, Lauristin was killed in catastrophic "Juminda merelahing" (along with 14 000-16 000 other evacuees; or shot right before) already in 1941 during the Soviet retreat).

Tortured by MGB, Hans Kruus was one of the very few who, although badly beaten, thumbs broken, never confessed of being a "kodanlik natsionalist". So... they were all fascinating.. and kind of weird bunch of fellows.

stockholm slender ütles ...

It might only be typical Finnish arrogance but quite common view here has been that however forced Päts was to act to prevent an even more anti-democratic government, nevertheless there wasn't a functional civil society in the political sphere (otherwise there certainly were) which led to fatal isolation at the top in 1939-40 whileas in Finland the political elite was very aware of and constantly supported by broad, vigorous and independent public opinion. When Päts and Laidoner where replaced by these mostly relatively well-meaning radicals there was nothing in place to systematically counteract the Sovietization project led by that primitive butcher Zhdanov. Other than these few people nominated by him and scared for their (and their families') very lives.

Wahur ütles ...

Giustino, "whether" was never a question. "Why" is what is most interesting for me.

If you want to find out, what did "June communists" actually know or expect, I suggest at first to look at the wider picture.

Having read a bit about the history of pre-war events it seems to me that even on the top level it actually involved quite a bit of improvisation and even best-laid plans did not hold for more than few months.

Did Stalin know in September 1939 that Baltic states will be incorporated in next summer? I don't think so. When it did become a certainty? We do not know for certain, but I would bet that not before the end of Finnish campaign. So even if there were certain strategic goals, the actual events were more than often the result of very short-term planning.

We can be pretty sure that not a single Estonian participated in the planning phase, which means that they had no access to any strategic information and were basically in the receiving end of the command chain. It does not really matter whether they liked the orders (some probably did) or did not like them (I am sure many did not). In fact, I dare say that if Päts would have remained the head of state it would have made no difference whatsoever.

Control was handed over to the Big Puppetmaster in September 1939.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Wahur: I still believe that a symbolic refusal of the June 1940 ultimatum was not in Stalin's hands to prevent but a Päts-Laidoner decision. It was a crucial thing in many respects (however academic at the time) and perhaps a correct (and certainly reasonable) decision was made, but it was in any case one that was still in the hands of the national leadership.

Giustino ütles ...

It's so hard to find good source material. I have Magnus Ilmjärv's analysis, which was sponsored in part by Tõnisson's sons, and makes him out to be the good guy. The Cold War-era books spend so much time trying to refute Soviet propaganda that they become propaganda themselves. So that makes memoirs, which are inherently biased, the best sources of information. One imagines that if you read enough memoirs and private correspondence, you can piece together what may have actually happened.

plasma-jack ütles ...

stockholm slender: by June 40 there was some 14 000 Soviet troops already inside Estonia. War really wasn't an option any more. Estonian government had lost this war at the moment of signing the base treaty.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I wasn't talking about victory, I was talking about resistance to brutal invasion. It would have been totally doomed, naturally, but perhaps still worth while, at least in retrospect. Stalin was of course clever and won over by salami tactics, so that in the end there never was a clear opportunity to resist. Or at least neither Päts nor Laidoner thought so. Not going to idiotic Turtola scenarios I would still think that it can be reasonably debated whether that was right or wrong.

Meelis ütles ...

"Did Stalin know in September 1939 that Baltic states will be incorporated in next summer?"
Stalin did know this since August 23rd 1939

Wahur ütles ...

Slender: You might be right, but men who gave in in a difficult situation in September 1939 were (correctly) expected to give in in a hopeless situation of June 1940. They had already made their choice. I suppose had Päts remained a president, he would have also signed deportation papers or agreed to join USSR without blinking an eye.

Giustino ütles ...

"Did Stalin know in September 1939 that Baltic states will be incorporated in next summer?"
Stalin did know this since August 23rd 1939

I read that they made the decision to annex the Baltics only in February 1940.

Tortured by MGB, Hans Kruus was one of the very few who, although badly beaten, thumbs broken, never confessed of being a "kodanlik natsionalist".

Kruus was the one who tried to negotiate for "Outer Mongolia" status with Molotov. Molotov told Kruus that Finns, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians would one day disappear and become Soviet people. Molotov comes across as a real evil bastard -- it seems appropriate that he signed the pact with the Nazis.

Wahur ütles ...

Meelis, on August 23, 1939 incorporation became a viable scenario. Before that date it was not. Simultaneously, incorporation of Finland became a viable scenario. It was a moment when planning process for the event started, but other possible outcomes were still on the table.

Meelis ütles ...

"I read that they made the decision to annex the Baltics only in February 1940"
May be. But why evacuation of Baltic Germans started in October 1939?

stockholm slender ütles ...

re: Wahur - Yeah, I guess that was the time when they committed, threw the dice (and it was surely based on a very rational evaluation of the situation - paradoxically Finland was saved by a course that both Mannerheim and Paasikivi thought was sheer madness, but there was no political possibility to surrender territory and bases without a fight). And once committed it was surely also psychologically difficult to change course - and surely they had calculated on a coming German-Soviet conflict and were prepared to pay the price of a temporary occupation. Only in retrospect it seems that it was folly from the beginning, but that was not the case. At which point can they be faulted then? (I would myself argue for June 1940 - a symbolic show of resistance would have only made it plain what was happening and what was the Estonian response to this utterly brutal aggression.)

Katherine ütles ...

Based on what I have been told, among Estonians there was no knowledge or awareness of what was really going on in Russia. At present, over here in Estonia, it is constantly reminded and reiterated - the crimes of the Soviets, 50 years of occupation etc. Back then, up until 1940, the enemy was different - people were constantly reminded of the "700 years long night of slavery" and the Germans were the main enemy in the minds of the most people.
Russia and Russians were not perceived as dangerous.

Unknown ütles ...

I'm certainly no expert on the issue but from somewhere I have also heard (naised saunas rääkisid) that even in the Independence War the Russians were just considered unfortunate opponents who had to be held back, but Germans were killed with a passion.

John Menzies ütles ...

In fact 'Barbarous': The Collected Letters of Johannes Vares sheds interesting light on this and suggests that the Estonian intellectuals saw Stalin's henchmen above all in terms of their literary potential.

Thus on May 14, 1940, Vares writes in his diary: "Zhdanov is a holy primitive. I feel that for all his crudity, that he may be carrying in his head the great Russian novel."

On June 1 Vares writes Ruus: "Andrei (Zhdanov) got drunk and said Stalin had confided in him and that Stalin wants to smash Estonia, to "suck it like an egg through a straw". Though I did not dare suggest it to Andrei, I felt Stalin could not possibly have said that and that the figurative speech was Zhdanov's. In his words there is all of the characteristic soul of the Russian people. How I wish he would put on a monologue evening!"

Deeper into June, Vares seems completely oblivious to the imminent annexation, and there is evidence to suggest that he developed an amorous infatuation with Zhdanov and responded to Zhdanov's threat by proposing a suicide pact to be consummated at the Russalka monument.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

"Based on what I have been told, among Estonians there was no knowledge or awareness of what was really going on in Russia."

Now I have to through in a family thing. Something I want to find out (maybe in the archive of the Laidoner museum, still under construction)
My grandfather left Estonia together with the Baltic Germans. He had worked for the ministry of defense on Toopea for many years, he was not a German. And the saying goes that Laidoner himself advised him to leave Estonia (in October 1939 already). In harsh words: That was a kind of betrail in advance. My grandfather had served as officer on the armored trains, he was expert in chemical war fare protection. He was in his 40ies. They both knew that the Ribbentrop-Molotov was a deadly threat to Estonia. Otherwise Laidoner wouldn't had farewelled him out of the country that early.

Wahur ütles ...

Leaders like Laidoner certainly had information and were somewhat aware of what to expect and what options were on the table.
Simple folk (and the likes of Vares etc. can be considered a simple folk) probably did not. Even those who could have known better. My granny was born near Novosibirsk and co-opted only in 1934. Most of the family remained there and was repressed. AFAIK our family was aware of the repression of their immediate relatives, but did not have the idea of the actual scale of 1937 events. They themselves left not because of ideological reasons, but because of a conflict with other villagers.

Anyway all this story (and especially nice references by Ernst) teach me one thing:

ifever you meet leftist intellectual, be afraid, be very afraid.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

I found a number in Georg von Rauch's book about the Baltic States that 1000 Estonians left with a special permission the country in 1939. This is a number to be considered. These Estonians had not much time to think about their decision. But I have no information about their motifs, their information, expectations. The number shows the Estonians were not clueless. But without documents it is guessing.

Meelis ütles ...

"I still believe that a symbolic refusal of the June 1940 ultimatum was not in Stalin's hands to prevent but a Päts-Laidoner decision"
Lithuanian President Smetona did not accept Soviet ultimatum and fled to Germany. Did it change anything?

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, that wasn't really a national act taken in the name of the government and the people which Päts and Laidoner were still in the position to do. Why not have done it as Stalin obviously broke even the lousy deal he made with Päts?

Meelis ütles ...

In June 1940 Päts and Laidoner wanted at any case evade state of war with Soviet Union. Because state of war would have been denouncement of Tartu Peace Treaty

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Because of this post I've read again part of the History of the Baltic States, Georg von Rauch.
Conclusion, discussing Laidoner's and Vares' and others action during this period is only understandable and to judge when we also know about the apeasement politics of other Estonian politicians during the 20ies and especially 30ies facing the Soviet Union and Germany. Names like Seljamaa. Once the Estonian foreign minister. For example his visit in Moscow 1934.
And also the entire diplomacy in the years before 1940 between Poland and Sweden, the Baltics. Poland had a treaty with Nazi Germany for a time period, 1934! Which did the Soviets surprised.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

A source added to my recent comment:

'True enough, from the hints made earlier by the Soviet diplomats, it could be understood that the Soviet Government had begun to support the idea of the establishment of a Baltic Entente. While leaving Moscow on 5 May 1933, Julius Seljamaa, the Estonian Minister in Moscow, was asked by the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Litvinov, who alluded to the German threat, whether the Baltic Entente would not be necessary to oppose German aggression.18 In his conversation with the Soviet Minister, Feodor Raskolnikov, in September 1933, during the latter’s farewell visit, Foreign Minister
Seljamaa admitted that the Baltic States represented a barrier which defended the Soviet Union from a possible German attack. Seljamaa thought it regrettable that Moscow did not understand the importance of the Baltic States and that there were circles who dreamed of reoccupying the Baltic States. The Estonian Foreign Minister made the Soviet Minister admit that the attitude of the Soviet Government towards the Baltic States had changed. He said, “... now the role that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania play in the present balance of power in Europe is clear to all leading politicians. Moscow is aware of the danger from the Nazis, and the nice phrases that are from time to time pronounced by Berlin, cannot make non-existent, Hitler’s or, Rosenberg’s intentions towards the Baltic States.” At the same time, Raskolnikov did not exclude the possibility that Berlin would return to the Rapallo policy.19 '

plasma-jack ütles ...

Thanks for the link, Jens-Olaf. There's also this interesting piece: [i]In spring 1933, the newspaper of the Latvian army, Latvijas Kareivis, published a notice from the influential French paper, Le Figaro, about a military agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany that also included division of the Baltic States, between the two countries.{&i]